For the thousands of fans who caught Judy Garland’s act at the Westbury Music Fair in June 1967, the new biopic “Judy” starring Oscar winner Renée Zellweger will bring back memories.
The film, directed by Rupert Goold and hitting theaters Sept. 27, highlights a series of legendary Garland performances at London’s Talk of the Town nightclub, just months before her death in 1969, at 47, from a barbiturates overdose. That may have been her last big hurrah, but the nearly weeklong concert run in Westbury (now called the NYCB Theatre at Westbury) packed a punch all its own.
The voice, still capable of that powerhouse belt, was hobbled and hoarse. But her distinctive ability to sound strong — defiant, even — in one verse, helpless the next, endeared her to audiences.
“You felt two ways about her,” says SiriusXM satellite radio host (and North Woodmere native) Seth Rudetsky. “[Fans] wanted to protect her when her voice cracked, but then loved the power she had when she was suddenly able to belt a crazy high note.”
Seriously. The crowds went wild.
“There is probably only one performer in the whole of show business who can stand alone on stage holding a microphone, take two steps, trip over the mike cord, start to sing a song, fluff it, begin another song, fluff it, go back to the first song, stop in the middle to ask the orchestra leader how the rest of it goes, finish the song and still get a thunderous, standing ovation from the audience,” wrote Newsday critic Bob Micklin of her Westbury opening on June 13, 1967.
At that performance she was joined by daughter Liza Minnelli, then 21, for duets of “Saints” and “Hello, Dolly,” and Liza’s then-husband Peter Allen (a little-known singer-songwriter who’d later headline at Westbury some 20 years later), for an upbeat rendition of “Just in Time.”
Garland served up some of her greatest hits (“San Francisco,” “The Trolley Song,” “Over the Rainbow”) decked out in a jeweled pantsuit, sometimes sitting on the stage, her leg tucked underneath her, mike cord swirling round. Later, she’d celebrate her opening night with a dinner party at the John Peel Room in Westbury’s Island Inn Hotel (near the old Roosevelt Raceway).
This was only her second time performing in the round, and the revolving stage took some getting used to. She reportedly quipped to the audience, “I don’t know why they don’t let you revolve around me.”
If her adoring fans could’ve managed it, they would’ve launched into orbit.